Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. Approximately 25% of all adult diabetics have some form of this disease and this disease will affect over 90% of all diabetics during some part of their life. It should be noted, however, that a very small number will have serious vision complications from this condition and an even lesser fraction of diabetics will suffer from blindness due to its manifestation.
What is it?
Diabetic Retinopathy is a weakness of the blood vessels within the eye due to diabetes. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. If left untreated, this condition can cause serious vision problems for the diabetic, including blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
Many of the symptoms, such as slightly blurred vision, may go unnoticed in many patients, and there are no outward physical signs of the disease. A diagnostic eye exam is critical to find this disease in its early stages.
Bleeding that occurs with proliferative retinopathy may result in a clouding of the vision, or even complete blindness. If the abnormalities occur in the peripheral retina, the patient may not have any symptom whatsoever.
A complete eye exam is the best line of defense against the progression of diabetic retinopathy. If the disease is found, fluorescent angiography (a dye procedure) is performed to determine the extent of the retinal blood vessel leakage. Ultrasound may also be used to diagnose any retinal detachment.
The degree of damage to the retina, and the location of the disease are factors in choosing a course of treatment for diabetic retinopathy. Retinopathy in the peripheral retina may only require an ongoing monitoring of the disease, while progression that affects the macula and central vision may require laser treatment. Lasers may be used to seal blood vessels, and can be useful in reducing further vision loss. The proliferative stages of the disease and also be treated with lasers, as they may be used to stop the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels. Treatment of the disease utilizing lasers is generally done on an outpatient basis.